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The grazing puzzle

By Audrey Hoien Published on 01 March 2021

Audrey Hoien is a seventh grade student from Atkins, Arkansas, and the winner of the 2020 American Forage and Grassland Council youth essay contest, sixth to ninth grade division.

Do you enjoy puzzles? Well, I will tell you about a puzzle unlike any other. You see, on our farm in central Arkansas, we grow a combination of grasses for our cattle each season. The pieces of the puzzle – the different types of grasses – all fit together to create almost year-round grazing. Let’s take a look at the individual grasses that we use on our farm.

On our farm, a wide variety of forages are planted and grazed at certain times each year. From May until September, our cattle graze crabgrass, Dallas grass, and bermuda, all native grasses that do not need to be planted annually. Even after a frost, bermuda keeps its nutritional value, so we save it for our cattle to graze later in the fall. Pearl millet is planted in June and grazed August through November. It works especially well in lowland pastures. This September, my dad planted turnips for November grazing. The cattle like the turnip greens and sometimes even pull the bulb out of the ground and eat it, too. In November and December the cattle graze fescue. Because it is a perennial, fescue has been planted in the past and still grows back every year. When the fescue runs out, my dad and brother feed hay. Usually we have to feed hay from January to March. Fescue is grazed again in March and April, along with ryegrass, planted in October, and clover, a perennial. Then we cycle back to crabgrass, Dallas grass, and bermuda. All the pieces fit together to form a complete food puzzle for our cattle herd’s entire year of nutrition.

The puzzle piece of grazing I find most interesting is the amount of thought the farmer must put into his grazing plan. His cattle must have food all year. My dad has carefully planned how to get the best grazing out of his pastures, and continues to work toward year-round grazing with different plant varieties. Farmers are some of the most patient, intelligent people, each making his own grazing puzzle pieces fit together.  end mark